Magic-Cavaliers Preview

It was far from a sure thing that the Cleveland Cavaliers and

the Orlando Magic would meet in last season’s conference finals,

but a rematch to decide the East next month seems almost

inevitable.

Any playoff intensity in the burgeoning rivalry, however, may

have to wait.

LeBron James may be held out of a third straight game along with

teammates Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison, but Orlando figures to go

full steam ahead Sunday afternoon as the East’s top two teams

conclude their regular-season series at Quicken Loans Arena.

The conference’s third seed heading into the 2009 playoffs, the

Magic (56-23) took out a Boston team that was without Kevin Garnett

before shocking the Cavaliers (61-19) in the Eastern finals.

They’ll enter the 2010 playoffs as heavy favorites to meet for

the conference title, and they’ve played three intense games so far

this season – two of which were won by Cleveland.

The top-seeded Cavaliers don’t have much to gain Sunday.

Cleveland clinched the league’s best record last weekend and after

beating Toronto on Tuesday, it has rested James in the past two

games. Mo Williams scored a season-high 35 points in a 109-108 loss

at Chicago on Thursday before he and Antawn Jamison (ankle) joined

James on the bench for a 116-113 home loss Friday against

Indiana.

Earlier this week, coach Mike Brown referred to the Cavaliers’

remaining schedule as “high-level practice.” Brown hasn’t ruled out

sitting James for the team’s final two games, and Williams and

Jamison could follow.

“There’s a chance,” Brown said. “I talked about that with my

staff and I talked about it a little bit with LeBron, too. We’ll

take that one game at a time and see how it goes.”

There’s at least a little more incentive for Orlando to play its

starters Sunday despite being locked into the East’s No. 2 seed.

The Magic and Los Angeles Lakers are tied for the league’s

second-best record, meaning home-court advantage is still up for

grabs should the teams meet again in the NBA finals.

After Dwight Howard and Vince Carter scored 25 points apiece in

a 118-103 win over the New York Knicks on Friday, Carter was busy

looking ahead.

“This is really the first time in my career that I’ve worried

about home-court advantage throughout the whole thing,” Carter told

the Magic’s official Web site. “My thing is approach (the last

three games) the same way. If we win all the games, everything else

will fall into place.”

Coach Stan Van Gundy made his thoughts on resting his starters

abundantly clear.

“I don’t know what it gains you, quite honestly,” Van Gundy

said. “My question would be why? For what reason? These guys have

been playing all year. They get days off.

“I’d hate to be sitting there in the finals going, ‘You know

what? We would have had a shot at this if I didn’t rest so-and-so

for no damn reason.”

Howard averaged 25.8 points and 13.0 rebounds against Cleveland

in the East finals, but has been held to 17.3 points and 11.3

boards per game against Shaquille O’Neal and the Cavaliers this

season.

It was initially thought that O’Neal, who’s been out since late

February with a sprained thumb, might return Sunday to get some

work before the playoffs, but Brown said that’s unlikely.

That leaves Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao – the same

duo the reigning Defensive Player of the Year dominated last spring

– to take their shots at guarding Howard.